Google founders Page, Brin, have sold $1 billion in stock since May

Larry Page, left, and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google Inc.

JB Reed | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google founders and controlling Alphabet stakeholders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have sold more than $1 billion worth of stock combined since May of this year.

Beginning in May, the two sold Class A and Class C shares worth more than $1.07 billion, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission compiled by OpenInsider. Brin’s sales total more than $610 million, while Page’s sales — including a round this week — are now over $462 million. Both founders are selling under pre-filed trading plans. Brin and Page had previously sold shares in 2017, when their last plan expired.

The company’s stock has performed well this year. Alphabet Class A shares are up more than 50% year to date, outpacing the Nasdaq Composite and shares of other tech giants such as Amazon and Apple. The company reported on Wednesday strong second-quarter revenue and earnings.

Page stepped down from the role as Alphabet CEO at the end of 2019, handing the reins to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. At the same time, Sergey Brin stepped down as president of Alphabet and his role was eliminated.

Page and Brin, who co-founded Google in 1998, remain as board members and hold majority a stake in the company, controlling 51% of a special class of Alphabet’s voting shares. The two are among the world’s richest people.

The Silicon Valley billionaires have kept a low-profile since stepping down from their leadership roles, although Brin made an appearance at Google’s first retail store in New York this week, CNBC has learned. Page has reportedly been spending a lot of time on his yacht in the Fijian Islands during the pandemic, according to Insider.

Watch: Alphabet earnings report “walloped” analyst expectations, says analyst

Why the 4-day workweek is unlikely to come to Wall Street anytime soon

The push for a four-day workweek has gained traction during the coronavirus pandemic, even grabbing the attention of Congress, but a shorter workweek may be difficult to implement on Wall Street.

The finance sector has “always been a culture of heavy hours and working a lot,” said Jason Snipe, founder and CIO of Odyssey Capital Advisors. “Now that we’ve been forced to stop to a certain degree and reorient ourselves because of the Covid environment, it has allowed us to reexamine what that culture is.”

Proponents of a shorter workweek point to the harm overworking does to a person’s physical and mental health as a reason to shift to fewer hours.

James Angel, associate professor of finance at Georgetown University, said he would be surprised if U.S. stock exchanges shortened their trading hours.

“If anything we might see longer trading hours,” he said. “People trade more when the market is open, and the industry knows this. So they certainly are going to be in no hurry to shut down the cash register.”

The stock market does have a history of changing trading hours. In 1952, the New York Stock Exchange got rid of Saturday trading hours, and it added a half-hour to the trading day in the 1980s.

There could be potential benefits to shortening hours, such as attracting more diverse talent to the industry.

“How can we make the business more attractive to women and other people who’ve previously been discriminated against in the industry?” Angel said. “One of the things floating around in Europe is the idea of shortening their trading hours.”

Longer hours, on the other hand, could be beneficial to certain market participants, such as West Coast investors.

There are some regulatory caveats for exchanges looking to change their hours. If an exchange would like to alter its trading hours, it would have to first get approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange declined CNBC’s request for comment.

Watch the video above to find out more about the costs and benefits of a four-day workweek on Wall Street.

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Robinhood’s democratization of investing is nothing new

Financial pundits have heralded the democratization of stock market investing with the creation and subsequent initial public offering of Robinhood.

The app, which allows stock, option and crypto trading from your phone, is said to be novel in the history of Wall Street.

It isn’t.

Individual access to trading in securities and commodities has ebbed and flowed across many market cycles.

I won’t belabor the point by going all the way back to the formation of the New York Stock Exchange in 1792, but I will go back about 100 years.

The “roaring ’20s,” the great bull market that lasted nearly a decade, were known for infamous “bucket shops,” which invited folks off the street to trade stocks on margin. That is, investors borrowed from their brokers to buy stocks.

Historical accounts vary greatly as to just how many individuals bought and sold stocks during the 1920s. Many were burned by the Great Crash of 1929, having bought on margin and lost their stakes.

Speculation in the stock market in the 1960s by individuals reached historic proportions. The “go-go” mutual-fund era minted star money managers like Gerald Tsai, who ran the Manhattan Fund; Fred Carr, who ran The Enterprise Fund; and a young Peter Lynch at Fidelity Investments.

Of course, the 1960s were followed by the volatile ’70s during which individual investors, much as they had in the 1930s, lost interest in the stock market.

However, on May 1, 1975, the government deregulated fixed commission charges on Wall Street, leading to the rise of discount brokerage houses. This made it cheaper for individuals to buy stocks, and it’s among the more recent examples of the democratization of stock trading.

Trading volumes exploded as costs came down.       

As markets began to recover from stagflation in the early 1980s, Wall Street, far more than Main Street, enjoyed a roaring bull market that lasted until the crash in 1987.

In the 1990s, lower interest rates, reduced taxes, and a wave of technological innovation hit Silicon Valley and Wall Street. A new boom began, leading to yet another mutual fund mania. In that environment, technologically sophisticated discount brokers like Ameritrade brought online trading to Main Street.

As the internet bubble began to inflate in 1995 with the advent of America Online, Netscape and Yahoo!, day-trading became a national pastime.

Multitudes of investors were trading hot dot-coms, regardless of whether they were profitable, had revenues, or even a market-ready product.

That market was “democratized,” only to wipe out many traders and investors when the bubble burst in the year 2000.

The peak of equity ownership, about 65%, last occurred in 2007, according to data from Gallup. Back then, individuals were flipping stocks on Wall Street and houses on Main Street.

The financial crisis of 2008 scarred that group of investors until this latest episode of what we again call “democratization.”

The Robinhood crowd, coupled with the Reddit Rebellion, has made day-trading both profitable and fashionable again, with very little attention paid to the history of speculative episodes like these.

This is not the first time that the little guy has seen the playing field leveled on Wall Street, and it won’t be the last.

But like all the others before it, it’s likely to tilt back in favor of the pros and hit the newly freed individuals in their pocketbooks.

Nothing is free, and nothing lasts forever.

The game never changes, as a 1920s Wall Street veteran told me decades ago – only the faces do.

Try to remember that when a new face emerges and claims you are now free to make your fortune.

—Ron Insana is a CNBC contributor and a senior advisor at Schroders.

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The national ban on evictions expires today. Who’s at risk?

Rauf Karimov | iStock | Getty Images

With the national eviction ban expiring today, Leopold expects he and his wife, Vivia, and their six young children, will be forced out of their home in Deerfield Beach, Florida, where they’ve lived for the past three years.

They’re one of millions of families in America that are still behind on rent, and could be at risk of homelessness when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium lifts at midnight.

“I’m shaking just thinking about,” Leopold, 50, said.

Leopold, who asked to use his first name only because of the stigma attached to evictions, said the pandemic set him back in more ways than he can count.

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He lost his job as a bartender at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and had to figure out how to help his children learn remotely. Soon, Vivia also lost her accounting job.

Their rental debt has swollen to $20,000.

He’s trying to get back on his feet, but time is running out.

He applied for rental assistance but his landlord refused to cooperate with the program, a common problem. He asked the organization he’d applied to if he could get the money directly to secure new housing, but he hasn’t heard back yet.

“The moratorium is running out before the funds are getting out,” he said.

States and cities have been slow to distribute the $45 billion in federal rental assistance allocated by Congress. Those funds were authorized in the last two major coronavirus stimulus packages, passed in December and March, and yet just $3 billion has reached households, according to data by the U.S. Treasury.

Recently, Leopold enrolled in a cybersecurity certificate program at the University of Miami, which he hopes will lead to a decent paying job. And Vivia is studying to become a nurse practitioner.

But they don’t know how they’ll be able to log into their classes if they’re homeless. All the local shelters he’s called told him they don’t have room for him and his family at the moment.

“My babies are just having fun with their toys,” he said. “They have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Who’s at risk?

There are a number of reasons for that, said Aaron Dibner-Dunlap, senior research scientist at Surgo Ventures.

“Before the pandemic, southern states also had relatively high eviction rates,” Dibner-Dunlap said. “So housing vulnerability has been a challenge in this region for a number of years.”

Another factor? “Most states in the South haven’t adopted Medicaid expansion, so you also see huge shares of the population without adequate health care if they get sick,” he said. “Research consistently shows that large shocks in one area — like a huge medical expense — can send people into a financial tailspin.”

Across the country, low-income Americans and people of color are also more likely to behind on their rent.

A little more than 10% of white renters are in arrears, whereas nearly 25% of Black renters are not current on their rent.

Some of the highest hardship rates are among Black, single mothers, with more than 1 in 3 owing a debt to their landlord, the Center found.

“Our nation’s long history of racism and discrimination has created unequal opportunities for people of color, putting them at greater risk of housing instability, evictions and homelessness,” said Alicia Mazzara, a senior research analyst on the housing policy team at the Center.

Research also shows that eviction rates are higher in communities with lower vaccination rates.

As a result, a historic wave of evictions could make it harder for the country to pull out of the pandemic. A study from last year found that more than 400,000 Covid cases and some 10,000 deaths could be tied to people being forced out of their homes.

Leopold is fully vaccinated, but his wife is still waiting for her second dose. None of his children are fully inoculated. He’s just praying that Congress extends the ban at the last minute, for his family and all the others facing the same.

“It’s simply unconscionable to allow such an ordeal to happen in the United States,” he said.

Judge gives Trump time to challenge tax return disclosure to Congress

President Donald Trump arrives for a photo opportunity with sheriffs from across the country on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.

Erin Scott | Reuters

WASHINGTON – A federal judge is giving former President Donald Trump time to challenge a Department of Justice order that said the IRS must surrender his income tax returns to Congress.

U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia Trevor McFadden said that Trump and his lawyers have until Wednesday to issue a response.

Neither Trump nor his lawyers have said if they will challenge Friday’s order.

On Friday, the Department of Justice said that the former president’s tax returns must be released by the IRS to Congress, a reversal from its position held during the Trump administration.

The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel said in a 39-page opinion that the Democratic-led House Ways and Means Committee had made a request with a legitimate legislative purpose to see Trump’s tax returns, with a stated objective of assessing how the IRS audits presidents’ tax returns.

Trump’s lawyers did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Friday’s decision comes more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court said that Trump’s tax returns had to be turned over by his longtime accountants to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., because of a subpoena issued as part of criminal probe.

In July, the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg were charged by Vance with crimes related to a “sweeping and audacious” scheme since 2005 to avoid the payment of taxes on compensation.

Trump, who broke decades of precedent set by candidates and former presidents by refusing to release his income tax returns, repeatedly said that his filings were under audit by the IRS.

However, taxpayers are allowed to release their returns to the public while under audit.

Is summer travel safe with delta Covid variant? Safety tips and rules

As summer winds down, the highly transmissible delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, which is now dominant in the U.S., is prompting questions about everything from when it will be safe to return to work to how to keep children safe in schools.

For many people, summer travel plans are also in limbo.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines for fully vaccinated people, advising that they wear masks indoors in places where there are high or substantial rates of transmission. The counties that meet that criteria make up about two-thirds of the U.S. population, according to a CNBC analysis of the agency’s data.

“We are dealing with a different virus now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor, said about the delta variant in an interview with NPR on Tuesday.

So is it even safe to travel? The answer completely depends upon your own individual circumstances, including your risk profile and tolerance, Dr. Ashley Lipps, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells CNBC Make It.

Here are some questions you might have approaching summer travel plans:

If I’m vaccinated, is it OK to travel?

No travel is completely safe, and how safe it is depends on individual circumstances.

But the best thing to do if you’re planning to travel is to make sure that every person in your travel party who is eligible is fully vaccinated, including all adults, Lipps says. The CDC recommends that you delay travel until you are fully vaccinated.

Rules for unvaccinated people who need to travel are stringent: The CDC says unvaccinated people should get tested one to three days before traveling and again three to five days after returning, plus quarantine for seven days upon returning home.

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people have to wear masks on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation, as well as inside transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

Everyone should self-monitor for Covid symptoms.

Can I bring my young kids?

Travel is tricky for families with young children, because vaccines are not yet available for children under 12. “If your kids are old enough to be able to wear masks on a plane, that certainly would help reduce the risk a little bit,” Lipps says.

You can also take steps to minimize your exposure to other people, such as driving in car versus flying on a plane and stick to outdoor activities at your destination, she suggests.

But Kullar says it’s best for families with young children to “wait until this surge has come to a plateau” to travel.

Is it safe to fly?

How do I know how bad Covid is at a destination?

What about traveling outside the country?

Certain countries don’t have as much access to Covid vaccines, “so you may be traveling to places where there’s far less people vaccinated than here in the United States,” Lipps says.

And “in most places other than the U.S., delta is just as much of a concern, if not more in some of the Asian countries,” Kullar says. “I would put a hold on international travel until we’re out of the thick of this.”

Additionally rules and regulations are shifting as situations change around the world.

On Wednesday, the U.K. announced that travelers from the U.S. and E.U. no longer have to quarantine upon arrival to England or Scotland. And Canada will allow fully-vaccinated Americans to enter the country starting Aug. 9 for the first time since March 2020.

“You have to be careful if you’re planning international trips because there may be changing travel restrictions coming up that we just can’t predict at this point,” Lipps says.

Testing requirements, stay-at-home orders and quarantine requirements also vary from place to place.

Take the Caribbean Islands, for example: Bermuda requires that unvaccinated visitors quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Vaccinated people also have to quarantine in Bermuda until they receive a negative PCR test. But in the Bahamas, fully vaccinated people don’t have to get tested or quarantine for entry.

Another thing to keep in mind if you leave the country: The CDC requires any passengers coming to the U.S. to have a negative Covid test result (or documentation showing you’ve recovered from Covid) before they board a flight to the U.S.

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Don’t miss: What you should do if you or someone you know is fully vaccinated but tests positive for Covid anyway

Disney, WarnerMedia, NBCU wrestle to balance value of cable and streaming

USA’s Sunisa Lee (gold) celebrate son the podium during the medal ceremony of the artistic gymnastics women’s all-around final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on July 29, 2021.

Lionel Bionaventure | AFP | Getty Images

If last year’s biggest corporate media challenge was launching subscription streaming services, this year’s unifying dilemma is figuring out what to put on them.

The tension between how to balance streaming video, theatrical release and linear TV is leading to some peculiar choices bound to confuse consumers in what’s becoming an increasingly jumbled landscape.

“The challenge all of these companies are battling — the central question — is what content goes where, who decides, and why?” said Rich Greenfield, a media analyst at LightShed Partners.

The programming decisions may alter how the public views streaming video. So far, most media companies have marketed streaming video as a complement to traditional pay television. This is why so many of the products are named with the suffix “plus” — Disney+, ViacomCBS’s Paramount+, Discovery+, etc.

In the long run, it’s possible each streaming platform will become the home for all of a media company’s programming. The “plusses” will essentially be lopped off. ESPN+ may just be ESPN, with everything ESPN has to offer.

But the world isn’t there yet. And the results are increasingly confusing for consumers as new programming is made specifically for streaming services, and the best of linear TV still doesn’t show up on streaming.

The streaming labyrinth

For scripted television series, media executives have largely made the decision that streaming services will be the home for the highest quality original programming. Disney, AT&T’s WarnerMedia, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS are all attempting to convince Wall Street they can grow beyond traditional cable television. They’re using new hit shows, including “The Mandalorian,” “Mare of Easttown,” and “Yellowstone,” as bait to entice subscribers. The results have varied from service to service, but all of the major new streaming services are growing by millions of customers each quarter.

For movies, there’s disagreement at a film-by-film level across the different services. Disney put Pixar movies “Soul” and “Luca” directly on its Disney+ service for no additional charge upon release. For “Jungle Cruise,” “Black Widow” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the company decided to make users spend an additional $30 to stream the movies before eventually making them free with a subscription. NBCUniversal placed “The Boss Baby: Family Business” on its paid tier of “Peacock” but only released “F9” in theaters. WarnerMedia decided to place its entire slate of 2021 films directly on HBO Max but won’t do that for blockbuster movies in 2022.

For news and sports, most media companies have kept their most valuable programming exclusively on traditional cable TV. The most-watched primetime programming on CNN, MSNBC and ESPN is still locked inside the cable bundle. This has allowed executives to push against the steady but not yet overwhelming surge of pay-TV cancellations, keeping alive a highly profitable business that brings in billions of dollars each year.

Choice overload

Making the numbers work

Disney is staring down a major streaming dilemma as soon as next year with “Monday Night Football.” The company secured rights to stream the perennially most-watched cable series on ESPN+ in its new TV rights deal with the National Football League in March. But Disney and ESPN haven’t said anything about when it will actually include “Monday Night Football” on ESPN+.

ESPN is by far the most expensive network on cable TV. It gained that distinction by being the only way Americans can watch “Monday Night Football” and other popular sporting events. If Disney starts moving previously exclusive programming from ESPN to ESPN+, pay-TV distributors will push back on future rate increases and millions of consumers will be given another reason to cancel cable TV.

The math makes this calculus tricky. Beginning Aug. 13, Disney will charge $6.99 per month for ESPN+ after a recent price increase. But Disney makes more than $9 per month per cable subscriber for ESPN, according to Kagan, the media research division at S&P Global, in pay-TV distribution fees. When bundled with the other ESPN networks, Disney Channel and ABC, Disney makes more than $16 per month.

In other words, for every customer canceling cable, Disney loses more than $16 per month. It will need to start charging more for its streaming products to break even  and that’s not even counting the loss in advertising associated with its linear programming, which dwarfs streaming video advertising revenue.

“Nobody is ready to unplug the linear ecosystem, because it brings in so much cash,” Greenfield said. “So they’re all balancing how to manage legacy assets with future investments that are free cash flow negative to show Wall Street that they’re trying. They’re all walking the tight rope.”

News programming decisions

NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia announced this month they’ll hire hundreds of new employees to beef up their streaming news services.

Instead of simply duplicating MSNBC, CNBC and CNN programming on “Peacock” and “HBO Max,” the media companies are taking a different strategy. CNN is building a subscription news service, CNN+. CNN chief digital officer Andrew Morse said he plans to hire 450 people to develop and market new series and newscasts. NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde announced plans to hire nearly 200 new employees across its news brands, the majority of which will support NBC News Now, the company’s flagship streaming network.

The decision to create separate programming for streaming — some of which may duplicate the content of what’s already being broadcast on linear TV — can be viewed in several different ways.

Skeptically, it could be seen as a waste of resources, filled with redundancies, as a “moment in time” decision to keep exclusivity in the cable bundle that may no longer exist in two or three years.

But NBC News executives say the investment acknowledges streaming audiences aren’t the same as linear viewers. That should lead to programming decisions that acknowledge digital viewers tend to be younger and more diverse.

“We’re always thinking about ways to optimize our journalism for each distribution platform,” said Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News. “How do we engage these new audiences? Sometimes the answers lead to different faces on screen, different approaches to storytelling, a different lens on the world.”

It’s unclear if there’s actually an audience for an all-streaming news network — especially one that demands consumers pay a monthly subscription fee, such as CNN+, which debuts in 2022. The notion of programming to a younger audience is suspect, as a video news broadcast, whether streaming or on traditional TV, may simply not appeal to those under 25. The decision to invest more in streaming news could lead to a gradual decline in investing in broadcast or cable productions if total revenue is shrinking.

NBC News Chief Digital Officer Chris Berend said he’s confident further investment in NBC News Now will pay off because he can already see the growth in time spent on the existing product, which launched in 2019. NBC News Now is free for consumers, backed by advertising.

“We are incredibly excited about the millions of hours audiences spend with NBC News NOW and how that continues to grow as we continue to invest,” said Berend. “That time spent, which includes more than an hour per visit on some platforms [like YouTube], is a clear indicator we are satisfying our audience across many platforms, each with their own demographic nuances.”

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.

WATCH: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts on earnings and streaming business

how they got into it, what their lives are like

Bitcoin miner Zack Pettit skating on his work break at the SCATE Ventures mining facility in Dallesport, Washington.

SCATE Ventures Inc.

Nick Sears was 17 years old when he helped build a bitcoin mining farm in Dallesport, Washington. He was 18 when he was legally allowed to buy bitcoin for the first time. And now, at 19, Sears has doubled down on his life as a bitcoin miner, saying “no” to college and “yes” to living in a room inside a data center that houses 4,500 whirling ASICs. 

“My room is sound-locked,” said Sears of the acoustic retrofitting of his living quarters. “So I can’t hear the machines when I close my door, but they are definitely noisy if I have my door open.”

The machines generate about 80 decibels of noise apiece — but Sears says he likes being as close to the action as possible. It also beats making the half hour commute each way from his parents’ house in White Salmon. 

The 19 year-old has spent pretty much every single day for the last two years teaching himself the nuances of how mining machines work – and crucially, how to fix them. He believes his education in soldering and electronics is worth a whole lot more to him than a university degree. 

“I don’t think about going to college at all, just pursuing further knowledge in the repairs of the miners,” continued Sears.

CNBC spoke with multiple miners for this story. Many explained that the allure of mining comes from being able to tangibly grasp the power of bitcoin. 

“If you’ve been to any of these data centers, the first thing you’ll notice is just how vast and how impressive they are. They’re huge,” said explained Thomas Heller, chief business officer for Compass Mining, which works with Sears’ employer, SCATE Ventures. 

“There’s so much noise, and there’s so much heat. There’s just so much action going on. It is quite cool to walk into a data center for  the first time that’s mining bitcoin, because you can really connect the intangible aspects of bitcoin as a currency, with the physical nature of these machines consuming power and doing these calculations.” 

Bitcoin miner Nick Sears lives on-site at the SCATE Ventures mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.

SCATE Ventures Inc.

A day in the life of a miner

Mining for bitcoin isn’t a glamorous job.

“When we first got here, we were setting up racks, creating the network infrastructure for the internet, and we essentially had to wire everything,” he said. 

Once the physical infrastructure was up and running, Sears got into more of a rhythm. He’s now up at 7 A.M. everyday and works from eight to four. He remains on site afterwards, just in case of an emergency, and there is a technician who works night shifts so that Sears can get some sleep.

But beyond the hours, there is no typical work day for Sears. 

“That’s the cool thing about this job – I don’t have a set routine that I do everyday,” he said. “Every morning, I find what needs to be fixed.” 

Some days, that means Sears repairs walls and other physical infrastructure. “If we have to repair a camera, maybe I’m fixing a cable.”

But the biggest part of the job is monitoring and managing every one of those 4,500 Bitmain and Whatsminer ASICs to ensure they are running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If even one of those machines goes offline, or is only running at partial capacity, the SCATE Ventures mine loses money.

That’s because when someone is mining for bitcoin, what they are actually doing is lending their computing power to the bitcoin network. The more machines you have online, the better your chances at winning bitcoin.

Rig under inspection at the SCATE Ventures mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.

SCATE Ventures Inc.

Roughly every ten minutes, 6.25 bitcoins are created. In order to mint these new tokens, a global pool of miners are all contributing their computing power to running a hashing algorithm. But these miners aren’t working in a vacuum. They’re competing against each other to see who can unlock each batch of new bitcoin first. 

So the stakes are high for Sears. Being diligent and knowing how to triage issues across the entire facility is critical to success.

Some mining sites use more sophisticated software to monitor the machines, which includes checking the temperature of each hashboard within the individual miners. 

But most important for Sears is just figuring out which of his machines aren’t functioning at full capacity. 

“Every day, you find the machines that have stopped hashing, then you remove them from the rack, and you troubleshoot,” he explained. “You’ve got to find the problem with the machines. You’ve got to find out why it went offline.”

It could be a power outage, which would affect all the machines, or it could be a network outage which could impact all of the machines or just some. 

“Sometimes they just need a power cycle or a reboot,” he said.

But the hardware fix isn’t always as simple as that. 

“It could be that the fan on the individual machine that is used for cooling is broken, or maybe it’s the power supply that needs to be repaired or replaced,” explained Heller.

“It could be the hashboards themselves,” continued Heller. “Each hashboard has lots of individual chips, and those are the chips doing the calculations. I think with a Bitmain machine, if more than four chips on a single hashboard are broken, the whole hashboard will switch off. So instead of hashing at about 100%, you’re only hashing at two-thirds or one-third.” 

Seasonal changes in the weather add a whole other layer of complexity. 

Lead technician Nick Sears repairs hardware at the SCATE Ventures Inc. mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.

SCATE Ventures Inc.

Storms can lead to power outages or other disruptions. Heller says that in the summer, the machines can also overheat, especially at the farms which have upgraded to using more powerful units over the course of the last two years. 

SCATE’s mine in Washington seems to have found a way around this problem by using its own immersion cooling technology, which involves submerging bitcoin miners in a non-conductive fluid to dissipate heat, rather than relying on fans. 

Training up and getting paid

Sears may not need a diploma to mine, but taking online training courses run by Chinese engineers who work for Bitmain has gone a long way toward helping him repair specialized mining equipment.

Last month, Sears and another employee completed a virtual class through Bitmain to learn how to work on the ASIC chips on hashboards, as well as the power supplies of the S17s, one of the most popular machines now used to mint bitcoin. 

“I have a certification of maintenance repair, so lately, I’ve just been perfecting my skills in that category,” explained Sears. “It certifies my knowledge and gives me access to buy supplies and material directly through Bitmain.”

Lead technician Nick Sears at the SCATE Ventures Inc. mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.

SCATE Ventures Inc.

Next, he hopes to attend an in-person class in Atlanta, Georgia, to learn more about soldering. “The hard part is learning how to solder and disassemble a circuit board,” said Sears.

Sears’ boss, Scott Bennett, is big on giving his team access to the resources they need to get better at their jobs. 

Bennett, CEO of SCATE Ventures, is a self-taught miner who started his business in his parents’ garage back in 2017, just before the last crypto “winter,” when prices of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies plunged. Similar to Sears, Bennett once lived at one of his data centers – only he opted for an on-site camper, rather than a room inside the facility itself. 

It helped that he lives within minutes of some of the cheapest power in the world. 

“All of our facilities are 100% hydro powered,” said Bennett. 

The mining facility where Sears works is next to the Columbia River and directly adjacent the Dalles Dam. “We love that source of power. It’s cheap, renewable, and very abundant,” he said.

As for employee pay, Sears says that he makes $54,000 a year, plus full health insurance, which is paid for by the company. 

Bennett also runs some mining machines exclusively for his employees. That amounts to about .02 BTC quarterly, which by today’s price equates to a $788 bonus every three months to Sears. 

“With all the miners in China going offline, the difficulty rate has been changing, so the rewards are higher,” said Sears. “The last time we got a little bit more than we did the previous time, which is cool by me.”

The SCATE Ventures mining farm runs on hydropower generated by the Dalles Dam.

SCATE Ventures Inc.

Mining remotely

It is also possible to become a crypto miner without physically handling any mining equipment at all.

Adam Gitzes decided in early 2021 that he really wanted to mine for bitcoin. After his wife vetoed the idea of installing equipment in their home, he began to look for alternatives.

Gitzes discovered Compass Mining, which allows customers to buy mining machines for between $5,800 and $11,700, then locates them in partner data centers and takes care of the physical logistics.

“I bought the machines on the website, Compass managed the logistics, delivering the machines to three different data centers in North America,” said Gitzes, who explained he spent 1.1 bitcoin — about $60,000 at the time of purchase — on them.

“Compass also configured them the way that I asked.”

So a typical day in the life of a miner like Gitzes consists of waking up and checking online to see how much bitcoin his machines mined overnight and to ensure that none of his units are down.

Inside the SCATE Ventures mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.

SCATE Ventures Inc.

The SCATE Ventures mining farm is in Dallesport, Washington.

SCATE Ventures Inc.

These are 2021’s next big themes, Global X and Amplify ETFs say

Hydrogen could be one of 2021’s next big investing themes, says one top ETF manager.

Its potential to take the clean energy industry by storm drove Global X ETFs to launch its Hydrogen ETF (HYDR) in mid-July, the firm’s senior vice president and head of research and strategy, Jay Jacobs, told CNBC’s “ETF Edge” this week.

“To go back a little bit into history, 11 years ago last week we launched a lithium and battery tech ETF,” Jacobs said in the Monday interview. “Over the course of 11 years, electric vehicles have gone from about 0% of the global auto industry to about 3% of the global auto industry.”

Hydrogen’s trajectory over the next several decades could look very similar, Jacobs said.

“We think the next long-term trend is going to be the shift to hydrogen, not necessarily displacing lithium batteries, but just a new form of clean power that can power trucks, that can power trains, that can power boats,” he said.

Though Tesla CEO Elon Musk famously wrote off hydrogen power as “mind-bogglingly stupid” in 2019, it has plenty of use cases in heavy industrial capacities, Jacobs said.

For example, while it may not make sense to have a fuel cell-powered passenger vehicle, fuel cells could reduce weight loads for trucks because they are significantly lighter than batteries, he said.

“From a pure efficiency perspective, heavy transport really favors hydrogen. On top of that, you see way more solar, you see way more wind that’s being put onto the grid that’s creating power intermittently,” he said.

“Hydrogen is actually a very efficient way of storing that excess power when it’s not being used. You can put that hydrogen in a truck, you can ship it over to another country that maybe wants it, but it’s a very efficient form of battery for excess renewable power.”

Clean living could join clean energy as one of 2021’s top themes, Amplify ETFs founder and CEO Christian Magoon said in the same “ETF Edge” interview.

Amplify has seen a lot of interest in its recently launched Cleaner Living ETF (DTOX), particularly from those also interested in ESG, or environmental, social and governance-based investing, Magoon said.

The firm is also preparing to launch an digital and online trading ETF that holds the likes of Coinbase, Charles Schwab and Robinhood, the CEO said.

“This digital asset marketplace, online trading marketplace that’s app-friendly, mobile-friendly, we think that’s a fast-growing area within financial services that is really capitalizing on the trend around the world for investors to trade stocks, bonds, commodities, cryptocurrencies, digital assets and that will be launched here in September,” he said.

Disclaimer

Cryptocurrency is taking off as a way to pay for vacation getaways

Alexander Spatari | Moment | Getty Images

You’ll probably have to use cryptocurrency to pay off that ransomware hacker who froze your laptop, but where else might you put all your bitcoin, ethereum and other digital coins to actual use?

Tesla may still be unsure about accepting bitcoin for its electric vehicles again, yet cryptocurrency holders can tool around in other ways now that travel suppliers are warming up to the idea.

Airfare website Cheapair.com, Latvian carrier Air Baltic and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have long accepted bitcoin, and Berlin-based tours and activity booking site GetYourGuide started taking dogecoin, processed via BitPay, in June as part of its expansion in the U.S.

Cryptocurrency transactions “will really matter for travel” and his firm is looking at accepting other coins going forward, said Johannes Reck, CEO and co-founder of GetYourGuide.

“People want to put their crypto back into the system [and] travel is one of the biggest categories there is,” he added. “We take dogecoin now into the real world; you can apply it and actually get a real-world, kinetic experience.”

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Expanding U.S. reach, travel site begins accepting dogecoin

Cryptocurrency also appeals to younger generations of travelers, say industry players.

Alex Simon, co-founder and CEO of soon-to-be-released travel app Elude, said next-gen vacationers “are looking for modern ways to plan and book trips.”

“The ability to purchase your airline ticket or hotel through bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies is inevitable,” he added. “Though the travel industry is antiquated, the new generation of travelers, Gen Z and Gen Alpha, will demand new forms of payments and alternative ways to purchase travel.” (Gen Alpha is generally thought to be comprised of those born after 2010, often the children of millennials.)

Other tourism players currently transacting in crypto include Nevada’s new Resorts World Las Vegas property, which takes it for select payments through a partnership with U.K. crypto exchange firm Gemini, and the Bobby Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, where guests can book stays and events with dogecoin and other cryptocurrencies via BitPay.

For its part, online travel agency giant Expedia stopped directly accepting bitcoin back in 2018, but 700,000 Expedia Group hotels and accommodations have been available via crypto-friendly booking platform Travala.com since 2020.

Travala.com also partners with Tripadvisor-owned company Viator, to offer more than 400,000 bookable activities, as well as food delivery outfit Zomato.

At self-described “blockchain-based” Travala.com, which accepts payment in its own native AVA altcoin as well 50 other cryptocurrencies, 70% of all bookings are now by digital coin, according to CEO Juan Otero. The firm said it is currently seeing more than $1 million a week in business.

“These are massive partnerships with some of the world’s biggest online travel brands, all of whom are embracing crypto,” Otero said. “Altogether, Travala.com offers over 3 million travel products, making us not just the biggest crypto-friendly [online travel agency], but one of the largest overall.”

Is B&B now ‘bed-and-blockchain’?

Matthew Leete | Photodisc | Getty Images

The cryptocurrency model is also starting to change the travel industry itself. Otero said it’s at the core of Dtravel, which he described as a new decentralized home-sharing network, built on the blockchain model, that Travala.com launched in June.

“There isn’t a single corporate board that makes all the decisions,” he said. “Instead, this new home-sharing network is driven entirely by its community through its ‘Decentralized Autonomous Organization’ that any host or guest can partake in.”

Otero said the blockchain technology Dtravel is built on facilitates “smart contracts” between hosts and guests. The platform centers around TRVL, its native crypto token.

The token is provided to all registered hosts and any guest can purchase it; those who have TRVL are voting members of the Dtravel DAO. (More than $35 million in TRVL rewards were reserved for the first 100,000 hosts to register with Dtravel, said Otero. On July 21, Dtravel announced 200,000-plus properties in more than 2,000 cities had joined; the platform has set a goal of listing more than 1 million rentals in its first year.)

There certainly isn’t a secluded island where a bunch of crypto enthusiasts all travel to.

Juan Otero

CEO of Travala.com

“There certainly isn’t a secluded island where a bunch of crypto enthusiasts all travel to,” he added, although he noted that crypto adoption has been higher than the global average in Travala.com’s second- and third-most-popular destinations, Turkey and United Arab Emirates. (The U.S. is the platform’s No. 1 seller.)

“With more people holding cryptocurrencies and more businesses accepting it for real-world things, travel is naturally a desirable experience to use crypto,” he said.

Of course, bitcoin and competing coins can swing wildly in value; that’s why travel suppliers tend to not sit on the volatile tokens but have third-party payment processors convert them to fiat value at time of purchase, says Otero.

Consumers reserve their options, too. “We generally see more credit card payments for travel when crypto prices are down versus when they’re sky-high,” Otero said.